Stu weighs in: Mummers is cultures!

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

I haven't been in town all that long, but I'm developing a deep appreciation for my man Stu Bykofsky, over there at the Daily News. Every major media market needs an old, out of touch curmudgeon to yell at the sky, and whether it's a lecture on those damn kids bicycling in your driving lanes, an essay on why Muslims are not belligerently pro-'mercan enough, or a simple rumination on why you should be able to pop a cap in someone's ass if you think you're being threatened because the district attorneys can all figure it out later or something, Stu's your go-to geezer.

So, it was with particular interest and tingly anticipation that I hurried over to Stu's little corner of this morning, to uncover his taken on a subject about which I know little, but about which I've been told much: The Mummers. Now, in fairness, I'm not precisely sure what these people do or why anyone cares about them. I gather they have some sort of New Years Day parade, and then everyone goes to South Philly, gets drunk on shitty beer, pisses in the streets and vomits up shell pasta. Also, there are sequins involved, somehow. Do I have it about right?

Apparently, this passes for culture around these parts, so as a newbie Philadelphian is my goddamn duty to enjoy this … um, thing that happens. (In the immortal words of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, in an interview with this newspaper's "editorial board" back in 2007 when he was running for mayor, "Mummers is cultures!" Or so editor-in-chief Brian Howard recounts. Anyway.) But it seems that the Mummers have come upon hard times. The city, being flat-broke and all, might not be willing to pay for them to frollic in the streets, or whatever it is they do.

Stu, who, you know, has previously come out in favor of parades having to pay their own way, thinks this is bullshit (or, in his generation's vernacular, poppycock, or even horse hockey). See, as Stu tells it, the mummers are special. Why?

The Mummers are a special case. I admit my bias, as a former Mummer marcher and a dedicated parade lover.

Oh, wait, that's not his real reason.

The Mummers, like the now-departed Dad Vail Regatta, bring in more money than they cost the city.

How much? An estimated $9 million, according to an economic impact report from the Center for Forensic Economic Studies.

You can argue the precise amount, but you can't argue that hotel bookings zoom during an otherwise dead time of year; you can't argue the money spent by Mummers clubs on feathers and fabrics, on carpenters and choreographers, on decor and deli.

Economics! OK, I can't quibble with the "hotel booking zoom" thing, because I haven't been here. But it does occur to me that this event happens on New Years, the day after a night where everybody gets positively shit-faced, and since they don't want to drive home and spend the evening in the drunk tank rather than singing Auld Lang Syne and making out with some girl they met at a party, perhaps there are other variables at play in the hotel bookings.

Post hoc, ergo proctor hoc, Stu. Just because two things appear to be correlated, doesn't mean one caused the other. And I'll confess not knowing much about the Center for Forensic Economic Studies, whatever that is, and I'll assume they're on the up and up, but one thing I've learned covering cities the last decade or so is to not put a lot of stock into economic impact studies. Maybe this one's the exception.Who knows? Doesn't matter.

I'm sure the Mummers spend a lot on sequins and feathers and clothes and choreographerswait, so this thing doesn't happen in the gayborhood? — and eat a lot of shell pasta and drink a lot of lager or whatever it is they imbibe, and that'll probably help out the local economy. But does it do so more than the St. Patrick's Day parade, which sounds like pretty much the same thing, only with green stuff, more booze and less, um, you know, straight dudes in drag?

Stu's got an answer for us there, too:

Most importantly, the Mummers are unique, only in Philadelphia. They are part of our cultural heritage, as much as the Liberty Bell, whether you like them or not.

It's unique. It's culture. It's special. Stu says so. (And he used to be one of them, so he knows.)

Give them whatever they want, Nutter. The sage of the stone age has spoken.

Posted 2009-12-11 12:02:51
Hey Jeff,

Don't you think it's about time you stopped writing about your ignorance for (and disdain of) Philadelphia and started (quietly) learning something?  I'm not claiming I agree with Stu, but your condescension isn't any better.  In fact, it's worse.

Vaudevillians New Years Brigade host sew-a-thon this Saturday :: Critical Mass :: Philadelphia City Paper :: Philadelphia Events, Arts, Restaurants, Music, Movies, Jobs, Classifieds, Blogs
Posted 2009-12-14 12:43:39
[...] though newbie Jeffrey Billman doesn’t get it, we’ve got some Mummers news for y’all.Hillary Rea, former CP intern extraordinaire and [...] 

David Hilbert
Posted 2009-12-24 15:37:07
Yes, Stu Bykovsky can be narrow-minded and short-sighted. Yes, his articles about cyclists and Muslims are poorly-researched. But Billman's article is just as narrow-minded and poorly-researched as any of Bykovsky's. You cannot attack him for being a curmudgeon when you write just like one. If you replace the word Mummers with that of any ethnic group, Billman would righly be accused of prejudice and racism.

Posted 2009-12-10 13:41:36
this was a really lame post. realy lame. and suprisingly very long for someone who keeps confessing to not knowing what he's talking.

Carl Williams
Posted 2009-12-10 13:56:33
I offer the writer congrats for proving why Philadelphia no longer needs two alt weeklies.

hoot gibson
Posted 2009-12-10 13:22:49
Please. Go back to wherever it is you came from. You add nothing to the conversation here.

Posted 2009-12-10 10:21:02
Why would a local paper allow an out of towner to write (like an idiot) about a treasured city tradition?  Do us all a favor - don't go to the parade.  And don't bother writing about it anymore (or anything else related to Philly either).

Other than that, keep up the good work and welcome to town.

Posted 2009-12-10 09:30:52
I like to make fun of stu bykofosky's angry-old-man bit as much as the next guy, but this post coulda used a lot more work, especially since the writer seems to miss the most important part about the Mummers: IT'S FUN.

You'll have a much better time here in Philadelphia if you drop the superiority act: no one likes a snob, Jeffrey, especially an ignorant snob who's also a newcomer. 

It's also not just Stu Bykofsky who says "it's culture". The Mummers have at least a century of history in Philadelphia, and it's part of a traditiont hat goes back even further than that.  It's one of the last remaining DIY parades (maybe THE last) in the US. It's a working class celebration: many of those "guys in drag" are union carpenters and electric. they build the floats themselves: it's not funded by macy's or some giant corporation.  trashy? yeah, a little.  low-brow? definitely, but so what, IT'S FUN.

get over yourself dude. Enjoy the parade, and stop looking down your nose at your neighbors.

Posted 2009-12-10 07:41:40
For the past six years, I have been moving around the US and internationally for school.  I grew up in Philadelphia. The Mummers may not appeal to everyone, but it's something unique to Philadelphia and enjoyable while drinking a Yuengling on Broad St. to cure a New Year's hangover.  The costumes are very expensive and they rival anything you see at Mardi Gras. The parade adds to the celebration of the New Year, and the Mummers social clubs are popular with  my generation (25-35).  The Mummers are also part of Philadelphia's identity and something worth affording value, just like the Thanksgiving Day parade.  If you want no parades or uniqueness and relatively blandness year round, I advise moving to East Central Illinois.

On a further note, over here in Edinburgh (Scotland), you hear locals complain about Hogmanay.  It's a waste of time/money, they say, with no cultural or economic value.  It's all relative.

Posted 2009-12-09 16:19:07
Why in the world should a neighborhood organization have it's celebration paid for? I don't understand that. If they can't afford to put up the money for their celebration themselves, tone it down to where they can. I bet just as many peolpe stay out of the city that day, I certainly do, than go into it because of that mess.

Posted 2009-12-09 15:16:22
Ditto on Phil's point. It's not cute or attractive to personalize your disagreement with a fellow journalist.  Calling him an old, out of touch curmudgeon is uncalled for, even if its only purpose is to appeal to your readership base. You should refresh yourself with the meaning of ad hominem attack.  Sounds like you are an out of touch quasi-journalist, with a need to use foul language, in a City you ought to acquaint yourself with first before opining.

Posted 2009-12-09 14:58:34
It is unique, and I have friends who come to Philly just to see it.  Granted, they sleep on my floor and don't contribute much to the city's economy, but its a part of Philadelphia culture.  As a self-describe newbie, you should be a little less condescending towards the people who already live here with your stereotype of Mummer's and their fans (I don't eat pasta or drink alcohol)

Part of living in a city is acknowledging the diversity around you.  There is an honest debate to be had over the city paying for the Mummer's Parade....but your tone just makes you sound like some sort of cultural snob.

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